Story in Bulgaria

…’cause I wouldn’t be a Romanian otherwise

Yeah, the second time I left the country was to go to Bulgaria. For the people who live in the southern part of Romania, and not only for those, Bulgaria is usually the first trip abroad. I was special by going to Chisinau, but not so special that I didn’t go to Bulgaria at all.

And I have to mention that this article is also special since we are in the presence of its second birth. Do you know how some characters from Game of Thrones die multiple times? This is how my article is birthed multiple times. My computer crashed a little bit while I was writing it without saving every second, and I was left with a text file without the text. Because, why not?

Going out with the family in Bulgaria

Years went by after I had gone to Chisinau. Meanwhile, I grew up, I went to college, graduated, and started to work my ass out to be able to pay my bills and not be a burden on my parents. Still, no matter where I used to work, I was able to spend one or two weeks, during the summer, at my parents’ house. Holidays at their house were usually another time for me to invest in sleeping, while I was seriously suffering from sleep deprivation.

But, in one of those lazy days of summer, when you feel that even the air starts boiling near you, my parents came up with a bright idea: to have a day out and discover the Bulgarian seaside, and to visit Cape Kaliakra, together with a family friend and his 10-years old son. We set up everything and agreed on all the details, we prepared the small luggage for one day, and we were on the road the next day, early morning.

Obviously, my hand was shaking a little bit while showing the ID at the customs office, but the passage was easier since we didn’t leave the European Union in this trip. I expected, of course, to feel a great difference, but I obviously didn’t feel anything, because borders don’t split countries like glass splits aquariums; but well, I was young and naive.

After we enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the wild sea at Cape Kaliakra, we went near the seaside, where we wanted to have something to eat and to have a walk for the rest of the day. We found a place to park the car, tried to keep things in mind so that we’re able to return into the same spot, and left to the beach.

We stopped at a restaurant to eat and for my mother to brag about her speaking Bulgarian (long story, but the short version is that I have some distant relatives in Cadrilater, a land that once belonged to Romania, and my mother, during her childhood, used to spend all of her summer vacations in Bulgaria, visiting relatives), not that we needed that, many of the people working in tourism and in the northern part of Bulgaria speak Romanian pretty good, and also some other languages, so you can easily communicate if needed.

Because it was a beautiful day, but not so much that we could go to the beach, we decided to just have a walk near the beach, while enjoying an ice cream or a cotton candy as dessert. After we finished comparing everything with the Romanian seaside from the same sea, we started to slowly go in the direction of the place we left the car, so that we can go back home.

Well, as we were going uphill, eating cotton candylike some 5 year-olds, the 10 yeard-old decides to make the following joke:
    – Daddy, look, our car! while pointing to a car that was lifted by a platform and taken away.

Nope, he was actually not kidding.

It WAS actually our car and it WAS being lifted by a platform and taken away. We obviously started to desperately run after the car, because we didn’t have a lot of options at that specific moment. Of course, we were all very fit, so the running was our joyful way of spending the time after the big meal that we participated in.

We arrived, after 15 minutes of continuous running, to the place where the cars of people who don’t behave as they should go. Of course, the accommodation for the car needed to be paid, even if it stood there for like 10 minutes, while we retook our abilities to breathe again, to discuss with someone, and to withdraw some money from an ATM that had commissions almost as high as the ticket fee was.

Well, it’s what we deserved for not being smarter than that. And we should be thankful that we were coming right then to the car and that we had an observant kid with us. Otherwise, we would have come to the magic spot and we wouldn’t have found the car; considering what’s been told about the cars stealing wave in Bulgaria, sometimes even from the hotels’ parking lots, it wasn’t a situation you wanted to be in.

Note to self: if in your country everyone parks chaotically everywhere, it doesn’t mean it’s the same in other countries too. If it looks like you found a parking spot in a very open area, and with no other cars close by, think a little IF you are that lucky to be the only one in there. Chances are, you’re not anything different than a future fine payer.

Cristina, almost carless

Going out with the (future) godparents in Bulgaria

The people who were godparents at our wedding are some very dear friends of ours. The godmother is actually the first fan of this site. And by “first” I want to say “only”. Basically, for some time, I used to only write for her.

So, with these sweet friends of ours, we had the second adventure in Bulgaria. We decided to go there because a bank holiday was approaching, the type of holiday when everyone goes somewhere, at least out of town, and I remember it was a Monday, so we were able to connect the holiday with a weekend and with some vacation days.

Back then, we weren’t married, we weren’t even engaged and we didn’t have any plans to do it β€” at least I didn’t, I don’t know about him. Still, I was working in another place, and I also had free holidays, like people who work in offices do.

We decided, of course, very late, like we always do, we reserved accommodation to a place that seemed to be what we all liked and we waited for the departure day, which we celebrated with a pajama party the evening before, at their home, in order for us to be able to leave from the same place. The next day, we got in the car, passed the Ruse Bridge in less than two hours β€” of course, we weren’t the only ones going to Bulgaria for those vacation days β€” and we finally arrived at the destination.

That day we learned how to take pictures if you’re smart enough. Now, not that this was the reason we were there, but the pool was fun. It had like a 2-meters width and a 4-meters length. I entered and, after I moved my hands twice, I was at the other end. And no, I’m not a great swimmer, I can barely keep myself alive in the water.

Advice: if one time, when you study a place where you want to stay in, you see pictures made from a spot very close to the water, like almost parallel to it, then you should know that the pool is probably very small, so not get your hopes up and don’t expect an Olympic pool, just be prepared for a kiddie pool for adults.

Us, swimming in the pool like in a bathtub

We went out for lunch since we were famished due to the long ride, and after that, we went to a beach that was a little bigger than the pool, but not so much. It may have had a length of 20 meters and a width of 4-5 meters, but it was clean, even though it didn’t look quite taken care of. We spent that half a day there, we thought it wasn’t worth it to try to find something better for a few hours, but we did find out that no, that was not the seaside that everyone was talking about.

The nicer beach was one kilometer away from where we were and obviously that was the moment we found out how far away from it we had the accommodation. Still, everything was ok, we cannot complain about a small walk in the morning, while it’s still warm, or in the evening, when the temperature is similar.

I would be hypocritical to say that I saw so many differences between the Romanian and the Bulgarian beaches. I didn’t go to Mamaia (popular Romanian beach) in the few last years, sin I had a thing for more secluded beaches, but I found something from the old Mamaia on the Bulgarian seaside.

The same produce market atmosphere, the same sand, the same water, and almost the same people, since about 50% out of them were speaking Romanian. The food is at least acceptable, especially if you like eating anything that grows in the sea. The services are similar, maybe a little closer to what Greece has to offer.

We found a taxi driver that wanted to take our money without taking us to the destination, we met also the waiter that added some imaginary stuff to the tab, but we also met the waiter that switched the TV channel so that we could see a soccer game where Romania was playing, just because he did hear us speaking Romanian and he assumed we would like to watch the game. Like everywhere, some good and some not so good stuff. Nope, the Bulgarians are not far away for us in a lot of ways, but, it is possible still that they have the prices more affordable compared to the same services in Romania.

Going out with the team in Bulgaria

When I wrote this article the first time, I almost forgot about this one. We were somewhere at less than 50 kilometers away from the border, so somehow, in my head, it didn’t really count as a trip abroad.

With the team, the experience was different. I was the new team member, I barely knew the colleagues and, as I would eventually find out, I was not going to feel integrated into the team after a lot of time either. Still, I went to the team building, thinking I need to create connections somehow.

We left one Friday morning, from the company’s parking lot, and we were separated into four buses and a minibus. And “separated” is the best word for it since our team of five was split into two buses and the minibus. We, the girls, landed in the minibus with the sociable and the thinks-of-himself-as-funny driver, the type that tries to interact with the people he’s transporting. The following dialogue actually took place, and it was something surrealist between him and the team leader which was responsible for the people in the minibus.

     – If you’re bored by the radio, just tell me, ’cause I also have CDs with two types of music (I have to jump in here to explain since this is something specific to Romania. The first type of music he offered was something like our parents used to listen to while they were young and in communism, so it was old music but not classics as Guns and Roses or The Scorpions, but something more embarrassing. The second type is something new-ish, I mean it’s been around for more than 20 years already, but it’s some sort of oriental influenced thing which, in Romania, is very connected to being stupid or uneducated, as those lyrics have grammar mistakes and are very repetitive in themes and sounds. Both options were, of course, not fit for a minibus filled with IT engineers, who usually have a high IQ and proper taste in music – or at least less crappy than those options. We’ll call those options A and B, to keep things simple.) Just tell me which of those do you want.
    – B, of course – with an obvious glare that was saying: are you making fun of me?
    – B it is!

And B it was. The whole journey. We were even asked if we knew some of the “songs” since apparently, he had the newer tunes.

Yet another lesson to learn: if you’re not ready to undo by using a serious tone, then DO NOT joke with people you don’t know. No matter how obvious you think it’s the sarcasm, other people may think you’re serious and turn the entire joke around so it bites you in the ass.

Team lead listening to crappy music

The team building organizers went a long way to keep everyone happy. The place was amazing, almost a full resort only for our own usage, with an infinity pool, sports fields, bars and other very important aspects for successful companies. Still, I only remember three situations, which are very important to find out how, in fact, are usually team buildings in IT companies.

The first story is about a colleague who had a fear of heights but, after the first evening, which was very difficult for all the ones involved, she was able to walk from one balcony to another until she reached the colleagues from another building, making use of the fact that the balconies did communicate a bit. Then, at the return walk, she did the scene from Titanic from a balcony that was a little bit higher than the other one. Which scene from Titanic, you ask? This one, of course!

The second story is about our team, in the pool, at 4 AM, and a lady that was screaming “Hospital! Hospitaaal!” from nearby. This was all the English she was able to use at that hour, and we, at the same time, were only able to tell her we were OK, we didn’t need a hospital. But we could have since the pools were closed by night in order for them to be properly cleaned, so in the pool, there were all sorts of substances and chemicals. But we were fine, no chemicals were going to ruin our party.

The third story is about a guy, amazingly drunk, that was floating in the pool, face down. A Head of Department (a very nice and respected lady) jumped into the pool to drag him from there. After she took him out of the water and she saw that he was breathing, she was the amazed witness of the following saying:

    – So, babydoll, will you give me your phone number?

Yes, he was an IT guy, but the pickup lines were specific to other types of people. The cherry on top was that, when she complained to our team lead, he came out with:

   – Well, you’ve still got it!

Of course, he also landed in the pool soon after that, so that he learns he shouldn’t mess with an angry woman ever again. Yeah, I know, team buildings are fun. Yeah, I accept resumes and I do forward them to HR people. No, I don’t get any bonuses for this, I’m just that nice.

Going out with friends to ski in Bulgaria

I know, this article just goes on and on. And, without meaning it, I was always in Bulgaria in different contexts and accompanied by different people. The context is different this time because we went to the mountains, not at the seaside like the rest of the episodes of this mini-series.

Because my husband is a fan of winter sports, and his friends have similar interests, every year we try to celebrate New Year’s somewhere near the slopes. And, as in Romania, the prices for accommodation for the New Year’s period have become outrageously high (if compared, for instance, with 5-star hotels in Vienna), we decided to give a chance to the Bansko slopes from Bulgaria.

So, we started searching, we choose something that we thought was right for us, took the cars and off we went. After a long journey, with a few hours waiting time at the Ruse Bridge (only one way was being used, alternatively), and a lot of patience, we reached our destination.

And, after the check-in, we discovered that, in the apartment we were going to share with another couple, we had two options: either a room without a door, but with a bathroom nearby and a double bed, or a room with a door, but with two single beds separated and with the bathroom downstairs. Beautiful options, right? After a Rock-Paper-Scissors session, we won the room without the door, and they were left with the one with it.

We called for someone to help us bring their beds together, so at least they could sleep closer, but then we discovered that there was also a 10-centimeter height difference between the two beds, so it was better before. Of course, no matter how nice and helpful the receptionist was, she wasn’t able to move us or to change something, since it was New Year’s Eve. Still, the area was nice, the food was OK and the view was beautiful. And, apart from that, we didn’t go anywhere and not have some adventures to tell everyone about, so why would this case be any different?

For the ones that love winter sports, the slopes are good. It’s cheaper and a little bit better than what’s available in Romania, but I’m not exactly sure if the distance makes it worth it. Still, if we think about it, the same traffic jams can appear on the way to Valea Prahovei, when coming back from the New Year’s period.

If you want to get more ideas on things to do in Bansko, check out this blog post of a fellow blogger. She’s a local, so she really knows her stuff.

There aren’t tens of slopes like in Austria, France, or Switzerland, and they’re not so well organized. For example, in the morning, there’s a huge line for the cable car which has to take everyone up. This queue takes at least one hour, and it becomes very frustrating to just stay out, freezing, while you look at the guys from skiing classes passing you because they have a separate line. Basically, they come down 2 to 3 times while you wait to just go up one time. Still, there are a lot of options for lunch, drinks, and recreation spots near the slopes, so you don’t need this cable car for the rest of the day, so you need to handle this line only one time a day.

We spent the New Year’s night at a live music pub nearby. The services, like everywhere, were so-and-so. The food was, obviously, brought from a catering company because the place was a pub and it didn’t have a kitchen. This was translated into the fact that all the food was served until 11 PM because they didn’t have any means of keeping it fresh for a large amount of time, especially since I think it was delivered directly on plates.

Also, the great surprise after midnight was the fact that almost everyone started to smoke inside, and I mean the usual cigarettes, not the electronic ones. We tried to complain about it, but even the waiters were smoking, so it was clearly something known there. One of the girls had her blouse burned a little bit, I had to provide a not-so-subtle explanation to another girl who was keeping her cigarette at her hip’s level, near a path that everyone used, and I wasn’t able to limbo to avoid it, and everyone left that place coughing like in the days before the law was applied also in Romania. (Again, clarifications are needed. In Romania, you were allowed to smoke inside bars and restaurants until 2016. A terrible situation led to this law being introduced and respected, and you can find more information about that sad event here.) At least, in this field, I can safely say that we are a little bit higher than they are.

We came back to Romania on the same day as everyone else, we didn’t invest any other vacation days for this, so we encountered the expected line at the customs office. We felt so confident that a friend and I decided to get out of the car and walk into a gas station to buy some snacks. Meanwhile, of course, all the cars started to move towards the customs office, so we had to run between the cars to be able to reach the guys and so that we didn’t cross the border on foot. That was a chance for our spouses to get rid of us, but they weren’t that lucky this time.

Well, that’s about it, this is all that I can say about our neighbors from the South. Our conclusion is that it’s not such a huge difference between them and us. Maybe, if you live south, it’s easier for you to go there as a tourist. I also heard very nice things about Veliko Tarnovo, but I cannot say more than that, since I didn’t try it for myself.

As far as services go, we encountered pizza with the cheapest and worst type of sausages, but we also found incredibly good food at an Arabian restaurant which was the ultimate place to go if you wanted a shisha. It depends on how lucky you are, actually. And, considering what I have already written and what I will continue to write, you’ll find out how lucky I am.

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